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Riquet made no reply. He never asked for food as long as he lay under the table. However good the dishes might smell he did not claim his share of them, and, what is more, he dared not touch anything that was offered him. He refused to eat in a human dining-room. Monsieur Bergeret, an affectionate and kindly man, would have liked to share his meals with his comrade. At first he had tried to smuggle down to him a few little scraps. He had spoken to him gently, but not without that arrogance which so often accompanies beneficence. He had said: “Lazarus, receive the crumbs of the good rich man, since for you, at all events, I am the good rich man.”

But Riquet had always refused. The majesty of the place over-awed him; and perhaps in his former condition he had received a lesson that taught him to respect the master’s food.

One day Monsieur Bergeret had been more pressing than usual. For a long while he had held a delicious piece of meat under his friend’s nose. Riquet had averted his head, and, emerging from beneath the table-cloth, had gazed at his master with his beautiful, humble eyes, full of gentleness and reproach; eyes that said: “Master, wherefore dost thou tempt me?”

And with drooping tail and crouching legs he had dragged himself upon his belly as a sign of humility, and had gone dejectedly to the door, where he sat upon his haunches. He had remained there throughout the meal. And Monsieur Bergeret had marvelled at the saintly patience of his little black friend.

He knew, then, what Riquet’s feelings were, and that is why he did not insist on this occasion. Moreover, he knew that Riquet, after the dinner at which he was a reverential spectator, would presently go to the kitchen and greedily devour his own mess under the kitchen sink, snuffling and blowing, entirely at his ease. His mind at rest on this point, he resumed the thread of his thoughts.

“The heroes,” he reflected, “used to make a great business of eating and drinking. Homer does not forget to tell us that in the palace of the fair-haired Menelaus, Eteonteus, the son of Boethus, was wont to carve the meats and distribute the portions. A king was worthy of praise when, at his table, every man received his due portion of the roasted ox. Menelaus knew the customs of his times. With the aid of her servants the white-armed Helen saw to the cooking and the great Eteonteus carved the meats. The pride of so noble a function still shines upon the smooth faces of our butlers and maîtres d’hôtel. We are deep-rooted in the past. But I am not a hungry man: I am only a small eater, and Angélique Borniche, primitive woman that she is, makes that too a grievance against me. She would think far more of me had I the appetite of a son of Atreus or a Bourbon.”

Fiction & Literature
October 25
Library of Alexandria
The Library of Alexandria

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